Universal

REVIEW: Paul Stanley’s Soul Station – Now and Then (2021)

PAUL STANLEY’S SOUL STATION – Now and Then (2021 Universal)

Reviewing Paul Stanley’s new album, Now and Then featuring his new band Soul Station, is probably the most challenging task I have ahead of me this morning.  It’s difficult for several reasons, primarily three.  Full disclosure.

 

 

 

  1. Paul Stanley might be my favourite artist of all time.
  2. His voice is in decline and this is always evident.
  3. How can I review Paul’s soul covers without comparing to the originals?

The truth is I like soul just fine, but the bulk of my collection is made of different grades of rock.  I have an Etta James CD.  I’m far from qualified to review this.  But I have to, so I’ll try.

Paul’s band is 10 members (excluding himself) augmented by a horn and a string section.  18 musicians are credited total, with Paul as “lead singer”:  the first time on any of his albums where Paul plays no instruments.  Unexpectedly, Paul’s Kiss bandmate Eric Singer is Soul Station’s drummer.

There are 14 tracks:  nine covers, and five originals.  You can’t accuse Paul Stanley of taking the easy route.

Remember when Kiss were accused of going Disco in 1979?  “Could It Be I’m Falling In Love” really sounds Disco, and certainly there’s nothing wrong with the flawless arrangement, from the lush strings to the punchy horns.  In fact, Paul’s diminished voice is the only noticeable weakness.  He covers for it pretty well.  He used to belt it out all time; now he usually holds back in a soft whispery falsetto.  A performer has to adapt to their limits at every age.  Good tune.  But this is a new Paul Stanley and he’s not the best singer in his band.  He’s just the lead singer.

The first original, “I Do”, sounds like the real thing.  It’s a light ballad, arranged with the strings and full band treatment to sound pretty much just like the covers.  But the really surprising original is “I, Oh, I”, a terrific upbeat dance-y number.  Not only does it sound authentic but it’s also catchy as hell.  You could imagine it in a rock arrangement, and Paul points out in the liner notes that he wrote, arranged and orchestrated all his originals.

“Ooo Baby Baby” is a Smokey Robinson cover, and like the original it’s in falsetto.  It’s one of the harder songs to listen to.  “O-O-H Child” is better, though no substitute for the original.  Paul does well on the upbeat tracks with plenty of melodic hooks.  One of his backing singers take the lead on a few lines.  And although Eric Singer does a mighty job on the drums, he is a rock drummer playing soul, and that’s evident in the fills.  The groove of the 70s just isn’t something that can be recreated easily.

You can tell by the title that “Save Me (From You)” is a Paul original.  Sounds like a leftover from the Live To Win album, jazzed up for the Soul Station.  That said, it’s a pretty good track.  It’s a nocturnal rumble that does really well standing up to the classics.  It cannot be denied that Paul Stanley has a knack for writing a melodic song.  All of his writing credits on Now and Then are solo credits.

“Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)” is not bad.  It’s the falsetto again, but massaged in the studio, and backed by the Soul Station, this one makes the grade.  Nobody doubts Paul’s genuine love of this music.  In the liner notes he takes ample time explaining his roots with Detroit soul.  And it was him that was hanging out in New York Disco clubs, when he decided he could write one of those songs for Kiss.

“Whenever You’re Ready (I’ll Be Here)” is a duet with one of his backing singers; upbeat, well done.  “The Tracks of My Tears” exposes the weaknesses in Paul’s voice but there are plenty of backing singers to cover for him.  That aside, it’s another great Soul Station cover.  “Let’s Stay Together” (Al Green) underwhelms; I mean how can it not?  The best thing I can say is that it’s better than Michael Bolton’s version.  “La-La — Means I Love You” also kind of just sits there, threatening to send the listener off to sleepytime land.  Fortunately, Paul’s original “Lorelei” revives the album, with upbeat melodic charm.  Cool guitar solo on this one too.

Two more covers to get through — “You Are Everything” (no thanks) and “Baby I Need Your Loving”.  Fortunately the latter song closes the album, on an earnest upbeat note with Paul giving the lungs a little exercise.  Solid ending.

Observation:  I enjoyed Paul Stanley’s Soul Station more the first three or four times I played it — as background music.   When it comes to listening intently, it didn’t capture me.

Observation 2:  Peter Criss got shit all over for trying to make an album somewhat like this back in 1978.

If Paul had released a mini-album (or extra large EP) with only seven or eight tracks, I think we’d be praising his originals and taste in covers.  Unfortunately chinks in the armour appear too frequently on the bulk of the album.  Good background music, but not an outstanding set.

Paul’s originals – 4/5 stars
Covers – 1.5/5 stars
Kiss Fan Fanatic Score – 100/5 stars
Realistic Score – 2/5 stars

REVIEW: The Black Crowes – Shake Your Money Maker (2021 deluxe edition)

THE BLACK CROWES – Shake Your Money Maker (Originally 1990, 2021 Universal deluxe edition)

How many times have you bought Shake Your Money Maker (31 years old but not a day over 20)?  This time the Crowes did it (mostly) right.  The last time they reissued this album in 1998, they added only two bonus tracks.  Now there are 25.  These include a whole disc of rarities called More Money Maker, and a homecoming live set from December 1990 with the original lineup and a sneak peak at new, work-in-progress songs.  All of this is worth your money to buy one more time.  Especially for the songs they were already road-testing.

Disc 1:  Shake Your Money Maker

Freshly remastered and sounding good.  Opening up with a rip of slide guitar, the Crowes made their southern bluesy roots known from the get go.  It was nothing like Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, or anybody else on the radio at the time, except maybe the London Quireboys.  They drew influence from the 70s:  Bands like the Stones and Skynyrd, as well as the old Mississippi Delta bluesmen.  Listen to Rich Robinson’s slide and dig in.  Chris Robinson’s bluesy drawl delivers a hell of a chorus.  “Twice As Hard” is perfect in every measure, and producer George Drakoulias captured it without messing with it.

Second in line is the debut single “Jealous Again”.  It sounds like the offspring of the Stones at their boogie-woogie best.  The noticable difference is the big drum sound wielded by Steve Gorman, the Crowes’ secret weapon.

Shake Your Money Maker is a well rounded album with a few piano based slow tracks.  The first ballad is “Sister Luck”, sort of prototype for the kind of things the Crowes would do in the future.  You want authenticity?  That’s Chuck Leavell on keys.

Back to the rock, “Could I’ve Been So Blind” kicks it with a shot in the arm and a great chorus.  Thing go slow again on the organ-based blues “Seeing Things”.  The wild thing is, the Crowes were just kids, but it sounds like they have years and years of pain to pour into these songs.

One of the most well known singles from Shake Your Money Maker was the old Otis Redding cover “Hard to Handle”.  A bit of a surprise to hear an Otis song on the radio, but we gladly took it.  The Robinson swagger on this one is enormous.  Back to rock, “Thick N’ Thin” begins with a car crash. Fast paced rock and roll with boogie woogie piano gets the feet moving, like the Faces on adrenaline.

One of the fastest songs gives way to the slowest one.  “She Talks to Angels” is the only one that technially deserves the tag “ballad”.  Acoustics guitars, organ, and Chris’ plaintive voice took it to #1 on the US “album rock” charts.  It’s still just as stunning today, with the feel still coming through.

Moving in for the close, “Struttin’ Blues” is relatively nondescript compared to some of the prior ass-kickers.  They save the most kick-ass for last:  “Stare It Cold”.  It starts as a standard Stones-y rocker, but then it picks up speed right to the end, brilliantly ending the debut album on a hell of a good impression.

Disc 2:  More Money Maker:  Unreleased Songs & B-Sides

This isn’t all the B-sides of course; the Crowes issued plenty of live tracks that you will have to track down the singles for.  This does collect the studio music that made it onto B-sides and bonus tracks, as well as far more serious rarities.  One of those is “Charming Mess”, a slamming unreleased track that easily could have been a hit.  Slippery guitars, bouncing piano, and a wicked chorus.  Early Crowes tended to keep things simple, and this a great example of their early charm, cranked up to 10.

The Humble Pie cover “30 Days in the Hole” is tight and clean.  Johnny Colt was an underrated bass player and you can hear it on this decent but underwhelming cover.  The original “Don’t Wake Me” is an also-ran, in the fast-paced category.  Great guitar work as always though, so always something to listen for.  The Lennon cover “Jealous Guy” always lacked something that the original had, but by turning it into a lamenting blues, the Crowes made it their own more than the other covers.  The original “Waitin’ Guilty” is a real treat.  Happier with twang, it was rarely played live, perhaps because it’s a bit of a departure.  A sweet, tasty, twangy departure.

The “Horn Mix” of “Hard To Handle” has been difficult to track down for years.  Here it finally is!  One thing not apparent when listening to it on a shitty radio — the bass really thumps on this remix.  With this version now finally widely available, it is the definitive mix.  Two acoustic versions of big hits are next:  “Jealous Again” and “She Talks to Angels”.  Stripped down to the very basics with no drums.  “She Talks to Angels” benefits very much from the bare arrangement, becoming something truly special.

This disc ends on a double treat:  Two early demos by Mr. Crowe’s Garden, the incarnation that preceded the Black Crowes.  “She Talks to Angels” is fully written but with a higher lead vocal melody.  “Front Porch Sermon” is more folksy than what we usually expect from the Crowes, at least until the later years.  Banjo is the dominant instrument.   The chorus is a dead ringer for Blue Rodeo.  Great stuff; let’s hope we get more Mr. Crowe’s Garden demos in the future.

Disc 3:  The Homecoming Concert:  Atlanta, GA December 1990

For many, this is the main feature of the set, and for good reason.  This era of the Crowes only lasted a short time and change is already evident.  The new material they were working on, and were already playing live, was different.  The band was also changing and soon guitarist Jeff Cease would be out of the lineup, replaced by Marc Ford.  This concert CD is one of our few chances to hear what Jeff Cease brought to the band.  They couldn’t have grown where they did with Cease, but as the lead guitarist on these rock and roll tracks, he’s perfect.

Chris Robinson is on fire, as evident on the stormin’ first song, “Thick N’ Thin”.  It’s an energetic version and that energy carries over into a new song called “You’re Wrong”.  It would later evolve into “Sting Me”.  The sound of Southern Harmony was starting to creep in and you get a lot more a  bit later into the set.  Although nobody sounds bored, the Crowes roll out the hit “Twice as Hard” next.  It could be one of the best versions out there, for Chris’ impassioned overblown vocal.

Favourites from the album are played one after the other:  “Could I’ve Been So Blind”, “Seeing Things”, “She Talks to Angels”, “Sister Luck”, and “Hard to Handle”.  Particularly powerful is “Seeing Things” though highlights are plenty through these tunes.  The Crowes also peppered their sets with non-album covers.  “Shake ‘Em On Down” (Bukka White) is unexpectedly followed by “Get Back” (The Beatles).  But really it’s just one extended jam on some familiar themes.

The real treat is a full 13 minute version of “Words You Throw Away”, the long jam that would one day evolve into a little hit called “Remedy”.  You can hear certain chords and rhythmic ideas that ended up in “Remedy”, and maybe also “Thorn in My Pride”.  It is however its own song, with some unbelievable hooks of its own that never made it into anything else.  Just lay back and enjoy all 13 minutes of musical nirvana.

Closing the set with “Stare It Cold” and “Jealous Again” can only be anticlimax after that workout.  What else could they do?

It’s very fortunate this live set was so well recorded, mixed and mastered for release.

In Conclusion

Though affordable, the 3 CD edition has skimpy packaging.  There is a small foldout with rare photos (and some really cool ones of Mr. Crowe’s Garden) but no real liner notes or other details.  It would just be nice to know more about where the rare tracks originated, or even the original studio album itself.  The album used to come with lyrics, but this comes with nothing.

Still the music more than makes up for up for the lack of packaging.  The top-notch live set is a revelation, and the bonus rarities are valuable and high quality.  You can’t say no to the music.

4/5 stars

 

THREE-VIEW: KISS – Best of Solo Albums (Japanese CD)

  Best of Solo Albums (Originally 1979, 2020 Universal Japan CD)

Third review for this Kiss compilation here, but why?  A couple reasons.  For one, it’s the first-ever official CD release of this album!  It took 41 years for them to finally put out a CD, and yet only in Japan.  More remarkably, there is one track here that I’ve never heard before in this particular version.

That song is the incredible Paul Stanley epic “Take Me Away (Together As One)”.  On Paul’s solo disc, it fades away at the end of side one at 5:35 in length.  Here, it goes to 5:48, no fade, right to the end of the track.  It’s an ending I’ve never heard before.  This song isn’t even on the more common European version of Best of Solo Albums, just the Japanese.  And apparently the CD has an unreleased version without the fade.

“Oh boy!” you exclaim.  “I have to buy this import just to get 13 seconds of music I never heard before?”

No.  You don’t have to buy it.  I did, because I wanted a copy of this album on CD.  When I discovered the longer version of the track, I was ecstatic to unexpectedly get something extra for my money.

There’s no need to review this album track by track again.  I’ve done it twice, and I’ve also reviewed all four solos albums twice each.  There’s really no need to run through all the songs again, although this tracklist is quite different.  Unlike the European version, these songs are not arranged in three-track blocks for each member.  Additionally, seven of the European tracks were substituted with others.  That’s more than half the album!

Gene Simmons:  Instead of “Mr. Make Believe” and “See You In Your Dreams”, Japan used “See You Tonite” and “Living In Sin”

Paul Stanley:  “Move On” was replaced by the unreleased version of “Take Me Away (Together As One)”.

Ace Frehley:  “Speedin’ Back to my Baby” was removed in favour of the instrumental “Fractured Mirror”

Peter Criss:  All three of the Cat’s songs – “You Matter To Me”, “Tossin’ and Turnin’”, and “Hooked on Rock and Roll” were replaced!  I guess Japan didn’t care for those as much as they did “Don’t You Let Me Down”, “Rock Me Baby” and “I Can’t Stop the Rain”.

For me, I prefer the running order that Europe used, with each member of the band getting three songs in a chunk.  However, there are plenty of songs that I prefer on the Japanese version, such as “See You Tonite”, “Take Me Away (Together As One), “I Can’t Stop the Rain” and “Don’t You Let Me Down”.

It’s interesting that the solo albums are by and large panned by the masses, but nobody can agree on the “Best Of“.  Maybe those albums weren’t so bad after all, at least when you distil them down to the essential tracks.  The Japanese CD will become my preferred listening experience for two main reasons:  it sounds better than the vinyl, and I like more of the songs.  It would sound even better if I had an MQA decoder, a new-ish hi-resolution CD format from Japan, which will unlock an even better sounding version of the album, if you have a few grand to spend on upgrading your system.  If not, enjoy the disc and stellar packaging, with not one but two different covers to display.

4/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Scorpions – Box of Scorpions (2004)

SCORPIONS – Box of Scorpions (2004 Universal)

Don’t worry – this Box of Scorpions cannot hurt you!  If fact if you allow yourself to be stung, you will find your reality injected with musical ecstasy.

This isn’t a box set to buy if you are looking for unreleased treasure.  It’s strictly a compilation, although you may be able to get a few tracks you didn’t have before.  Box of Scorpions covers every album from the debut Lonesome Crow, beyond 1999’s Eye II Eye, going as far as 2002’s Bad For Good: The Very Best of Scorpions.  That compilation CD included two new songs called “Bad For Good” and “Cause I Love You”.  They were recording specifically for Bad For Good, but it makes sense to get them on the beefier Box of Scorpions instead.

The first disc of this set is inaugurated by “I’m Going Mad”, the same technicolor workout that opened their first album.  The early psychedelic Scorpions songs are only represented by a couple, with “Fly to the Rainbow” being the second.  Stone cold classics form the bulk of the disc, with “Speedy’s Coming” being an obvious focal point.  “In Trance”, “Steamrock Fever”, “We’ll Burn the Sky”, and “Virgin Killer” are all essential cuts.  You can’t fit ‘em all in, of course, but the live album Tokyo Tapes fills in some of the most obvious blanks.  “Top of the Bill”, “Dark Lady” and “Robot Man” are great live inclusions.  The disc ends with the first steps into the modern Scorpions sound with a pair from 1979’s Lovedrive.

Disc two showcases the 80s and all the big Scorpions hits.  The band streamlined their sound.  Some may say “dumbed down”.  The Scorpions of the 80s were massive, but certainly were not challenging your grey matter with complex music like the 70s band were prone to.  They also lost the regality of the Uli Roth era, something his guitar brought to the band.  It was replaced by solid 4/4 hard rock, with plenty of hits.  There is only one live song (from World Wide Live) here, “Another Piece of Meat”.  The rest are all studio originals:  “Big City Nights”, “Still Loving You”, “Rhythm of Love”, “The Zoo”, “No One Like You”, and of course that unstoppable “Hurricane”!  Deeper cuts like “Coast to Coast” and “Dynamite” provide some serious meat.  This disc would make a pretty good standalone compilation.

The third disc concentrates on the 90s, which saw the Scorpions reborn by the success of “Wind of Change”.  Unfortunately, this ushers in a slew of ballads.  The few rockers like “Tease Me, Please Me”, “Alien Nation” and “Don’t Believe Her” are almost drowned by the ballads.  There are some songs you may have missed the first time around.  In addition to the aforementioned “Bad For Good” and “Cause I Love You”, you’ll also get “Over the Top” and “Life Goes Around” which were released in 1997 on Deadly Sting: The Mercury Years.  “Cause I Love You” is really the only keeper of these four obscurities.  It was originally written in 1978 for Lovedrive, and recorded in 2002.  That’s how it sounds, too.  As for the rest, at least getting by these songs all in one place, you don’t really need the other two compilations.  Disc three also contains the unfortunate “Mysterious” from the dreadful Eye II Eye album, and the soul live song “Hurricane 2000” from Moment of Glory with the Berlin Philharmonic.  Neither are really essential though “Hurricane 2000” has its fans.

Box of Scorpions adds up to a good set with plenty of value and a few minor surprises.  If you don’t own all the albums already, this is a good buy.  Be sure to get a copy with the outer plastic slipcase still intact!

3.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Helix – Icon (2018)

HAPPY CANADA DAY from LeBrain and Superdekes! HELIX double feature!

HELIX – Icon (2018 Universal vinyl)

New Helix vinyl?  Yes please.

The Icon series of compilations used to be a budget CD line that you could pick up for $5 or under.  Now, you can even get ’em on vinyl.  Buy ’em direct from Helix mainman Brian Vollmer and he’ll sign it for you.  This copy is signed by all five current Helix members, including a pre-injury Fritz Hinz.

As far as Helix compilations go, you can’t do much with just 11 tracks.  Even so, Icon has some surprises and plenty of pleasers.  There’s also enough difference from 2016’s compilation Rock It Science to justify it.  Opening with the one-two punch of “Rock You” and “Heavy Metal Love”, Helix top loaded this thing with their best known songs.  Perfect for the newcomer, or just a great party.

From there it’s “The Dirty Dog”, a long time Helix concert favourite.  This is followed in quick succession by some great singles:  “Gimme Gimme Good Lovin'”, “Wild in the Streets” and the dark ballad “Deep Cuts the Knife”.  All three songs are considered to be Helix classics.  “Deep Cuts the Knife”, written by guitarist Paul Hackman, is a particularly powerful ballad.  The entire first side is from the Capitol Records years, featuring the best known Helix lineup:  Vollmer, Hinz, Hackman, Brent Doerner and Daryl Gray.

Side two has a different flavour.  Only the hit “The Kids are All Shakin'” originates in the 1980s.  This top Helix pop rock track is followed by the Helix of the 90s and today.  “Good to the Last Drop” is another ballad, but much brighter than “Deep Cuts the Knife”.  This is the original album mix, with minimal keyboards.  Then it’s “Runnin’ Wild in the 21st Century”, kicking your teeth in at lightspeed.  The last two songs feature some help from guitarist extraordinaire Sean Kelly.  A razor sharp “Even Jesus Wasn’t Loved in His Home Town” comes from 2014’s excellent Bastard of the Blues.  The aggressive rocker is based on the fact that Helix can’t even their new songs played on the radio in their home town of Kitchener, Ontario.  Finally, the 2016 single “Gene Simmons Says (Rock Is Dead)” tells the demon where it’s at!  Maybe Helix don’t get radio play in Canada but rock ain’t dead — not if Vollmer and Co. have anything to say about it!

When it comes to Helix compilations, they are so numerous that you can really take your pick.  If you really care about the band, then just buy ’em direct from Vollmer at Planet Helix.  There are loads to choose from, but only this one was ever made on vinyl.  Or, you can just go CD!  Either way, support the boys if you’re gonna buy some Helix.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Tommy Shaw and Contemporary Youth Orchestra – Sing For the Day! (2017)

TOMMY SHAW and Contemporary Youth Orchestra – Sing For the Day! (2017 Universal)

These kids can play!

Tommy Shaw, accompanied by Will Evankovich, conductor Liza Grossman, and a whole orchestra full of highschool kids will blow you away on the live concert CD Sing For the Day!  It’s astounding to think that this room full of kids is so good that they got to perform the hits of Shaw with the master himself, and get it released as an album.  What gifted young musicians they must be.

Styx fans will adore Sing For the Day! for its roll call of classic songs, performed acoustically with the orchestra.  Styx music lends itself well to that kind of pomp and circumstance.  The album also boasts a number of Shaw favourites outside of Styx, like his first solo hit “Girls With Guns”.  With a new arrangement, “Girls With Guns” is almost unrecognizable but yet familiar.  You’ll also get Damn Yankees’ excellent “Come Again” and of course their hit ballad “High Enough”.

The album commences brilliantly with “Overture” from the newest Styx album The Mission.  Bar now set “high enough”, they run through “Girls With Guns”, “Too Much Time on My Hands” and “Fooling Yourself” with aplomb and joie de vivre.  You wouldn’t be going out on a limb to suggest that these kids do as good a job of it as Styx themselves do.  “Crystal Ball” soars majestic.  “Boat on a River” simmers quietly.  Most of the arrangements offer a freshness while being true to the spirit of the originals.  The only sputter is “Renegade”, which is stripped down and a little strange.

Set highlights include “Diamond” from Tommy’s 1997 album 7 Deadly Zens, a pretty incredible track.  “Come Again” is brilliant, as is the bombastic oldie “Man in the Wilderness”.  “Blue Collar Man” is among the best versions of the song ever recorded, and completely different from the original.  Fans should enjoy just about the whole shebang.  Casual listeners would recognize a number of these songs and might get a kick out of these novel interpretations.

Do not hesitate if you happen to find this CD in the wild.  It’s better than you might expect.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: The Gandharvas – Sold for a Smile (1997/1998 US and Canadian versions)

THE GANDHARVAS – Sold for a Smile (1997/1998 Universal US and Canadian versions)

What a band were the Gandharvas.  Lead howler Paul Jago could hit those Perry Farrell highs, and they wrote some pretty fucking great songs including their major hit “The First Day of Spring”.  An unappreciated gem would be their third and final album, 1997’s Sold for a Smile.  Led by the anthemic single “Downtime”, this is a hard album to resist no matter which version you get. It even made our list: “88 Unrightfully Ignored Albums of the 90s“.

Versions?  Yes, two:  the Canadian and US have different track listings.  In 1997, Canada got the basic 10 track CD.  When it was released Stateside, a number of tracks including “Downtime” were remixed.  The US and Canadian versions of “Downtime” have vastly different guitar solo and outro mixes, for example.  The States also got two bonus tracks:  a new recording of “The First Day of Spring” and a cover of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time”.  (The original album was a shorty at just under 40 minutes.)

The Gandharvas turned it up a notch for this album without losing sight of their more delicate tendencies.  “Gonna Be So Loose” is a slamdance of squealing vocals and chords.  (This song is available remixed on the US version.)  But then “Shells” is a low, strummy song perfect for the headphones.  It shows of the layered vocals that are a Gandharvas trademark.  “Waiting for Something to Happen” then goes somewhere between Guns N’ Roses and screamy, psychedelic punk rock — an astounding song, which then defies all logic by going acoustic.  And then all over the place.

Time for a little more pop in the rock, with “Hammer in a Shell”.  Snarly pop, with a sour candy coating.  “Watching the Girl” was another fine single, a more streamlined song for this album.  It too was remixed on the US edition, putting the guitars way louder.  Then strap in for “Sarsasparilla”, a boulder-heavy rocketship blast into space. “Into the Mainstream”, then, is a bit more complex, and perhaps a little bit epic.

“Milk Ocean” leads you to the end, with a healthy dose of acidy psychedelia.  It’s the closer, “Diabaloney” that’s a real head scratcher.  Is it a joke?  I can’t tell.  “I fuck it up, I got the fuck, I got the luck,” goes one set of lines.  Heavy and screamy goodness, but a real headscratcher nonetheless.  What the hell did I just listen to?

On the US version, the new recording of “The First Day of Spring” is placed third in the running order, after the remixes of “Downtime” and “Gonna Be So Loose”.  It’s quite a bit heavier than the original, though a brilliant song it remains.  Could it be actually a polished up live version?  Why does Paul Jago yell out “Colorado!” in the middle?  For fun?  This band is from London, Ontario not Colorado!  And “Time After Time”?  They twist it up, give it bite, and for better or for worse make it their own.  Unless you have a serious attachment to the song, the Gandharvas’ interpretation is quite cool.

As if you can’t tell, this is an album you should own.  Get one or the other, or both!

5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: The Mighty Mighty Bosstones – 20th Century Masters – The Millennium Collection (2005)

THE MIGHTY MIGHTY BOSSTONES – 20th Century Masters – The Millennium Collection (2005 Universal)

Every journey has a first step, and by luck of the draw, my first Bosstones is their 20th Century Masters – The Millennium Collection CD.   This was purchased in the 3-for-$10 bin at BMV, during the now-legendary 2018 Toronto excursion with Aaron.  It was the only Bosstones found on that trip, unfortunately, but one is better than nothin’.

I like Universal’s 20th Century Masters series; most of them anyway.  Some are pretty terrible, but in general they compile key hits with the occasional non-album gem.  The Bosstones’ instalment covers the major label period from 1993’s Ska-Core, The Devil, and More EP to 2000’s album Pay Attention.  Pretty much “the stuff you might know”.   I say this because I knew a lot of these songs.  Which is good!

It’s the brass that makes everything sound so damn tasty.  The first blockbuster punch of “Someday I Suppose” and “Don’t Know How to Party” bring the horns to the fore.  When you have a gravel-voiced singer like Dicky Barrett it helps to have some sax and trombone to deliver more melodic hooks.  This frees Barrett to sing in his in inimitable style, scraping the paint from the walls with sonic sandpaper.

The rest of the band are more than capable of handling background vocal chores, as demonstrated by the 1993 Bob Marley cover “Simmer Down”. Dennis Brockenborough (trombone) ably joins Barrett for “answer” vocals, enriching the Bosstones’ brew.  The quality cover tune is swiftly followed by another:  “Detroit Rock City” from the 1994 Kiss tribute album Kiss My Ass.  Catch the Gene Simmons cameo at the front, telling Dicky he couldn’t do “Detroit” but any other song would be fine.  Gene was forced to eat his words, because here’s “Detroit”, with a brick-solid wall of horns and chords.  Inclusions like this are great because fans who didn’t want a Kiss tribute album and can’t find the single can just buy 20th Century Masters instead.

Moving on chronologically, “Kinder Words” and “Pictures to Prove It” are more tough, hook-laden ska rock.  Tracing the river of cool hooks back to its source, they rise from the well of brassy horns and backing gang vocal melodies.  The Bosstones formula is hard to resist once you jump in.  Then, once Dicky Barrett’s unique voice gets hold, you’re in the tide.  From the same period, a “clean remix” of “Hell of a Hat” is another inclusion that would help out collectors; it’s from a promo-only CD single.

The Mighty Mighty Bosstones had a major hit with 1997’s “The Impression That I Get”.  It’s completely deserved because it’s a brilliant single.  It doesn’t vary from the core Bosstones sound, it just distils the elements down to a concentrate.  It’s an obvious gateway point to the band, an invitation to a pretty cool party.  From the same album (Let’s Face It) are two more recognisable hits:  “Royal Oil” and “The Rascal King”.  And though they are not as familiar, “So Sad to Say” and “She Just Happened” from Pay Attention are pretty much just as good.

This is one 20th Century Masters CD that I don’t regret owning.  Brilliant band, solid tunes throughout and a couple rarities for the connoisseur.  Get Mighty.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Iron Maiden – The Book of Souls: Live Chapter (2017)

IRON MAIDEN – The Book of Souls: Live Chapter (2017 Universal)

Not many bands can get away with releasing so many live albums so late in their career.  Iron Maiden can.  They can for three main reasons:

1: They still kick enormous amounts of ass.
2: Their setlist changes tour after tour and there will always be songs you won’t get to hear again.
3: See #1.

It doesn’t hurt that their new albums are as acclaimed as their old. Ever since Maiden’s 1999 reunion with Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith, we have been treated to an abnormally solid stream of brilliant records. Deal with the devil, perhaps? Faustian bargain #666?

The atmospheric and shadowy intro to “If Eternity Should Fail” is a perfect way to begin an Iron Maiden concert.  This track is magnificent.  It also serves as a dramatic way to open what is sure to be the greatest live experience on Earth. “Scream for me, Sydney!” yells Bruce to rile up the crowd. Yes, The Book of Souls: Live Chapter is taken from a number of different shows, which is a format Maiden have succeeded with before.

Another thing Maiden do successfully is top-load their live set with new songs.  The first two songs here are the same two as The Book of Souls itself.  Single “Speed of Light” really kicks up the excitement level.  To go from the epic drama of the opener to the taut single immediately causes an energy surge.  From there, we travel back to 1981 with “Wrathchild”.  It’s like a time machine to the London stages that young Maiden once trod upon.  Bruce’s scream is unholy.

Jump cut to Canada and “Children of the Damned”.  Bruce speaks French for the raving Montreal crowd, a nice touch of respect for the province of Quebec.  Maiden never sagged in popularity there.  In Quebec, Maiden’s 1995 album The X Factor (with lead singer Blaze Bayley) went Top 10.  Back to new material, “Death or Glory” is another energetic shorty.   The triple guitar solo slays.   Then it goes to epic, “The Red and the Black”, 13 minutes and the longest track on the album.  Riff overload!  Unabated, we launch into “The Trooper” and “Powerslave”, both old classics that remain as amped up as they were in the 80s.  It is pure joy to listen.  (Only qualm: backing vocals on “Powerslave” sound like tape.)

A pair of top-notch new songs, “The Great Unknown” and “The Book of Souls” kick off the second CD.  These are not short tracks.  In a way this is the “meat” of the set.  It is a run of 17 combined minutes of epic Maiden, and it’s a lot to swallow.  Savour every bite; this is prime stuff.  And will they ever be played live again?  Who can say?

You know the show is drawing to a close when you hear the opening chords to “Fear of the Dark”.  This favourite has been in the set since 1992.  It’s the crowd’s chance to really sing along and be a part of it.  More favourites follow:  “Iron Maiden” and “The Number of the Beast”.  (Absent is “Run to the Hills” which is on plenty of other live Maiden albums of recent vintage.)  “Blood Brothers” from the reunion album Brave New World seems oddly placed in the second-to-last slot.  The crowd at Download festival are thrilled to sing along.  On CD, you can hear Steve on backing vocals clearly, and appreciate how he and Bruce complement each other.  Then finally, it’s a terrific “Wasted Years” from underdog favourite Somewhere in Time.

The mix here is just dandy.  There are variances in sound from track to track and city to city, but these are minor and only natural.  You can clearly pick apart the instruments in the stereo field, and it’s pure delight to do so.  Once again, Iron Maiden have released a quality product.  You cannot go wrong by investing in any version of The Book of Souls: Live Chapter.

4.5/5 stars;

REVIEW: Arkells – High Noon (2014)

ARKELLS – High Noon (2014 Universal)

Thank rock and roll for new bands like the Arkells!  I’ve been happily enjoying their singles for years.  I really fell in love when I saw the Hamilton band open the 2017 NHL Awards.  A starstruck Max Kerman (vocals) gleefully fist-bumped with Wayne Gretzky.  I knew I had to get one of their albums.  On vinyl!  I chose their 2014 release High Noon to be my first Arkells, for its unforgettable single “Leather Jacket”.

Kerman managing to keep his shit together on national TV with The Great One

High Noon was a sound choice.  “Leather Jacket” has been an earworm for a long time.  High Noon also has another sterling single, “Come to Light”.  Its basis is similar to Bowie’s “Modern Love”.  While there is no mistaking the year, the Arkells put a slick 80s slant on these songs.  Whether it’s in the beats or the keyboards, there is a love of 1980s rock here on High Noon.

There are numerous highlights and few forgettable ones.  Album opener “Fake Money” has a strong piano riff, a classic U2 vibe, and an anti-corporate attitude.  One of the catchiest, more summer-y fun tracks is ironically “Cynical Bastards”.  Good time upbeat rock with solid beats to shake your butt to!  “11:11” is primed for dancing .  Everyone will pick out their own favourites, because there aren’t any poor songs on this wax.  Check out “Crawling Through the Window” for a slower tune with all the integrity intact, or the strange Disco hop of “Systematic”.

A band can make or break based on the lead singer.  I really like the expressive and sincere singing style of Max Kerman.  He stands out from first listen.  It’s hard to say exactly what makes him stand out, but he certainly does.  A band to watch.

4.5/5 stars